Meropians (Klendathu heinleinii xenos), otherwise known as Spiders, Arachnids, ‘Nids’ or ‘Archie,’ are several species of spider-like aliens native to the outer rim of the Milky Way. With their mysterious technology and never-ending numbers, they are second only to the gusano in the various xeno threat scales most human powers have created for themselves. Although smaller and physically weaker than humans, the meropians are nonetheless notorious for successfully defending themselves against a Coalition war of extermination, a feat only they and the gusano have achieved.
Meropians originate from the world of 2486022-IV, meaning the fourth planet in the system the Coalition has designated 2486022. 2486022-IV does not rotate on its axis, leaving one side in perpetual daylight and the other in perpetual night. Most meropians have an irrational fear of heat, leading to the successful use of flame and sonnematerial based weapons during the Coalition invasion. Uniquely for xenos, terran biology is similar enough to the biology of 2486022-IV so that species from both planets can safely eat one another. Consequently, both human and meropian armies have used the bodies of fallen enemies as food.
While there are many subspecies of meropian, all share a tri-segmented body, both an endoskeleton and exoskeleton, and a set of six proper limbs and a pair of segmented mandibles, leading to the common misconception that they have eight limbs. Despite sharing a name with terran spiders, meropian body structure is closer to that of canines. Because meropians evolved either in the cave systems or on the dark side of their homeworld, all meropians lack a sense of sight, instead relying on chemical trails and ground vibrations to find their way across their environment. This has given them a massive disadvantage with regard to ranged combat; the concepts of the sniper and indirect fire are utterly alien to the meropians. However, they have become experts in cave, jungle and nocturnal warfare, advantages they used to drive the Coalition back during their invasion.
Meropians, contrary to popular belief, do not lay eggs. Meropians exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism; their females are nothing more than living incubation chambers and become sedentary after impregnation, resembling “egg sacks” that are consumed by meropian young as they are born. Most meropian females are born mentally retarded and are doomed to bear the children of whichever willing meropian male happens to be nearby, if they are not collected to serve a particularly powerful meropian lord. Intelligent meropian females are considered unholy aberrations and are killed as soon as they are discovered. Human concepts such as marriage are unknown to the meropians.
The different subspecies of meropians are all well-documented, and what little is known of meropian history indicates most early conflicts on 2486022-IV were racial in nature. The most common conflict is that between the surface-dwelling races and the underground ones. The surface-dwellers are mostly composed of “Lambs,” a grazing race of meropian that seems to have been selectively bred over thousands of years to become livestock for more intelligent meropian races. Lambs are biologically incapable of reaching the same intelligence levels as the other meropian races but reproduce at a much more rapid rate than their masters, blissfully unaware of their role in meropian society. Unsurprisingly, Lambs make up a majority of meropian armed forces, given unstable sonnematerial weapons and ordered to march against enemy defenses. The “Lords” make up the upper crust of surface-dwelling meropian societies. More intelligent than any other meropian race, they are the main rival of the more physically fit, subterranean “Barons.” The Barons have bred their own Lamb equivalent, nicknamed Grubs by the Coalition, but studies of meropian texts show that the Grub is a recent development and that many wars had been fought between the underground and surface societies over control of Lambs. Most modern conflicts were fought with these historical undertones; most rivalries for leadership positions are between Lords and Barons. These rivalries have resulted in friendly fire incidents during the Coalition invasion. The biological caste system has made a sociological one natural for meropians. Most meropian states are heavily hierarchical, with different Lords and Barons trained from birth to serve in one capacity and never break away from their chosen path. The poor are expected to accept their fate while the rich are able to relax and enjoy the circumstances of their birth. Breaking a caste’s stereotype is considered as heinous as murder is in pre-Collapse human society. Most meropian societies are highly religious, either worshiping “sky” gods or “ground” gods depending on whether the society was Lord or Baron-dominated. Religious fanaticism has aided the meropian war against the Coalition as most meropian religious leaders declared humanity a race of demons descending from the stars, saying their destruction was the will of the gods.
Meropian societies highly value gems and crystals, a remnant from an era when Baron states more heavily dominated the planet than they did at the time of the invasion. The underground meropian races seem to have a universal desire for gems. This obsession has been cited as the reason meropian armed forces highly favor energy weaponry; the crystalline structures necessary for such weapons were developed earlier. Meropian material science is also superior to that of humanity, their armor and architecture exhibiting crystal structures and polymers once thought impossible by human scientists. Owning large amounts of gems is a clear sign of power; most meropian leaders wear clothes completely covered in rare gemstones. Ironically, the commonality of diamonds on 2486022-IV makes them a cheap gem representing a sad attempt to look important.
The Coalition found out about the meropians at the end of the 27th century and decided to show the other two superpowers its might by exterminating a xeno race of significant strength. A small expeditionary force was sent to the meropians systems to clear them out. Hearing about the nature of meropian biology, Coalition propagandists depicted the meropians as insectoid monstrosities that did not belong in a just universe. Many “death to Archie” rallies were held in Coalition worlds, some government-organized and others spontaneous. Roach and ant farms were packaged with small fireworks, so the children of the Coalition could recreate the heroic battles the Army and Marines were fighting light-years away.
However, the invasion was not as rosy as the propaganda at home claimed. During the Coalition invasion, the meropians conducted a strategy of infantry-based defense. Caves were filled with Lambs and Grubs armed with cheap EMSEL and radiological weapons that were prone to explode in their faces, while Lord and Baron squad commanders coordinated strikes against the surface. Explosives were placed in soft spots of the meropian cave systems, and when Coalition units were lured on top they were detonated to send the Coalition troops plummeting into the caves below. While Coalition armor ripped apart their meropian counterparts (armored warfare was a new concept for the meropians), Coalition attempts to clear the cave systems with gas and aerial and orbital bombardment were met with limited successes, as the cave systems went too deep into the planets’ crusts and the porous rock making up most of the worlds meropians favored prevented disastrous cave-in chain reactions. Coalition infantrymen were sent into the dark caves, where they were ambushed and slaughtered by waves upon waves of meropian infantry. Meropian infantry were unafraid of friendly fire, as the lives of individual meropians meant little, so the caves were regularly filled with enemy fire coming from all directions. Many infantrymen’s corpses were recovered half-consumed by meropian young in massive nests the meropians drag dead and wounded foes to. In space, most meropian starships are hollowed-out asteroids, rendering the precise weapons most Coalition Navy craft were armed with ineffective; only uncommon high-yield weapons could decommission a meropian ship. Despite inflicting massive losses on the meropians, the Coalition was eventually forced to retreat and consolidate its forces in 2715, vowing to exterminate the meropians once they developed the weapons to do so.